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Thread: Suicide Levers

  1. #1
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    Suicide Levers

    Hey guys, I got my hands on a Chicago-built blue Schwinn Varsity. It's a pretty heavy bike, but I have no issue with that. However, the bike has drop handlebars, and well, the main brake levers are located there. It feels awkward to be using that hand placement though if I'm just riding casually and going at speeds of 10 MPH. This is my
    first 'road' bike. I usually use my Trek 400 hybrid which has mountain bike style bars, so I've become pretty used to having my hands in a certain riding position. This was my first time using a bike with suicide levers, and they seem rather ineffective for even flat-road riding... I did notice that the rear suicide lever is very loose off the bolt attaching it to the handlebars, will this make any difference for stability?

    TL;DR? My question is how many of you commuters with heavy, older bikes use suicide levers?

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    Senior Member Seattle Forrest's Avatar
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    Get rid of your suicide levers, and install a set of cross brakes. I have them on my commuter bike, and I use them. Sometimes it's nice to be in the tops, in traffic; I feel like the (slightly) more upright position helps me be seen. ( That may or may not be true, but it brings some comfort. )
    Don't believe everything you think.

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    Haha, I think I will go through with that. Visibility is definitely an issue especially because of the traffic levels where I live, and dooring isn't uncommon. I feel a bit safer with the upright position because I feel less like if I get thrown off my bike it'll be face-first and disastrous. Will cross brake levers fit in the same position as suicide levers or will they replace handlebar levers altogether?

  4. #4
    a.k.a., Point Five Dude Surrealdeal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest View Post
    Get rid of your suicide levers, and install a set of cross brakes.
    +1. That or switch to cruiser bars if you're never going to use the drops anyway.
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    Senior Member tjspiel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Airbourned View Post
    Haha, I think I will go through with that. Visibility is definitely an issue especially because of the traffic levels where I live, and dooring isn't uncommon. I feel a bit safer with the upright position because I feel less like if I get thrown off my bike it'll be face-first and disastrous. Will cross brake levers fit in the same position as suicide levers or will they replace handlebar levers altogether?


    One potential problem is that older road bikes sometimes have very narrow handlebars making it a tight fit, - especially if you want to mount other things on your bars like a cyclometer or light
    Last edited by tjspiel; 06-09-11 at 02:08 PM.

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    Yabba-Dabba-Doo! AlmostTrick's Avatar
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    Set up and adjusted properly there is nothing wrong or dangerous with those levers. Back in the days I had them my favorite position was slightly behind the hoods, (not really hoods back then) where my ring and pinky fingers would then operate the "suicide" levers near their attachment point on the main lever when I wanted to brake. Many years and thousands of miles and I never had any problems or issues with them.
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    The Fat Guy In The Back Tundra_Man's Avatar
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    Or you can replace your stock levers with something like these: http://bikeisland.com/cgi-bin/BKTK_S...ls&ProdID=2044

    That's what I did with mine. I ran the cables under the bar tape and it looks a lot better.
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    Senior Member tjspiel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AlmostTrick View Post
    Set up and adjusted properly there is nothing wrong or dangerous with those levers. Back in the days I had them my favorite position was slightly behind the hoods, (not really hoods back then) where my ring and pinky fingers would then operate the "suicide" levers near their attachment point on the main lever when I wanted to brake. Many years and thousands of miles and I never had any problems or issues with them.
    I don't think I've ever seen a set of suicide levers with any sort adjustment. You can change the position of the whole brake lever I suppose.

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    Senior Member tjspiel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tundra_Man View Post
    Or you can replace your stock levers with something like these: http://bikeisland.com/cgi-bin/BKTK_S...ls&ProdID=2044

    That's what I did with mine. I ran the cables under the bar tape and it looks a lot better.
    That's another option as well, - get better brake levers that allow you to ride comfortably on the hoods. Or you could do both. Get better brake levers and cross levers.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by tjspiel View Post
    Get better brake levers and cross levers.
    Do you have any idea (estimate) what an LBS might reasonably charge for an installation like that (parts not included)?
    Last edited by Airbourned; 06-09-11 at 02:14 PM.

  11. #11
    Yabba-Dabba-Doo! AlmostTrick's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tjspiel View Post
    I don't think I've ever seen a set of suicide levers with any sort adjustment. You can change the position of the whole brake lever I suppose.
    And make sure the pivot bushing is not loose, (like it is on the OP's bike) and make sure the cables and pads are adjusted so that full braking can be achieved before the levers hit (or pass) the handlebars.
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    Senior Member Seattle Forrest's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Surrealdeal View Post
    +1. That or switch to cruiser bars if you're never going to use the drops anyway.
    Drop bars offer 3 to 4 positions, but only 2 of them are useful in just about any situation. There's nothing really wrong with the tops if you aren't racing, except that you can't reach the brakes from them. On my road bike I only ever use the tops while I'm climbing. On my commuter bike, it's nice to have another useable hand position. Doesn't mean you won't ever use the other ones, just that you have one more choice.

    Quote Originally Posted by Airbourned View Post
    Will cross brake levers fit in the same position as suicide levers or will they replace handlebar levers altogether?
    Exactly the same position - it's just a different, safer mechanism. They don't have to be angled downward like in the photo below, but this should give you some idea of what they're like.

    Don't believe everything you think.

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    Senior Member himespau's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Airbourned View Post
    Do you have any idea (estimate) what an LBS might reasonably charge for an installation like that (parts not included)?
    well new levers will run you (if you bought them yourself from niagara or jenson or somebody) $20-30 for a cheap set of aero levers, another about the same for the cross levers, cables and housing would run you another $5-20 depending on quality and another $5-10 for bar tape. That would mean minimum $50 for parts if you did it yourself. A shop would charge you probably at least that for the same parts and probably the same again for a mechanic's time to do the changing. Maybe it could come out to be less, but I'd be expecting to see something like $100 minimum and up to a lot more to have them do it. So I say either do it yourself if you want to, or don't do it as it might come to cost more than the worth of your bike unless your bike is something special.

    Edit: oh whoops, I didn't see the parts not included part. I'd guess it'd take half and hour to an hour of the wrench's time, so figure how much they charge per hour and go with that.
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    Senior Member tjspiel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AlmostTrick View Post
    And make sure the pivot bushing is not loose, (like it is on the OP's bike) and make sure the cables and pads are adjusted so that full braking can be achieved before the levers hit (or pass) the handlebars.
    That's sort of the problem. There's no independent way to adjust the suicide levers from the brake levers. Your strongest fingers are also located on the part of the lever that tends to flex a lot so you lose braking power. Honestly, there's better options now. He should just ditch 'em.

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    Senior Member tjspiel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by himespau View Post
    well new levers will run you (if you bought them yourself from niagara or jenson or somebody) $20-30 for a cheap set of aero levers, another about the same for the cross levers, cables and housing would run you another $5-20 depending on quality and another $5-10 for bar tape. That would mean minimum $50 for parts if you did it yourself. A shop would charge you probably at least that for the same parts and probably the same again for a mechanic's time to do the changing. Maybe it could come out to be less, but I'd be expecting to see something like $100 minimum and up to a lot more to have them do it. So I say either do it yourself if you want to, or don't do it as it might come to cost more than the worth of your bike unless your bike is something special.

    Edit: oh whoops, I didn't see the parts not included part. I'd guess it'd take half and hour to an hour of the wrench's time, so figure how much they charge per hour and go with that.
    I think if you're going to ride a bike like that the best thing to do is learn how to do some work on it. Swapping out the levers would be a good first project. Otherwise, I'd do the best you can with what's there and ride carefully.

    If it were me, I'd start by replacing the current brake levers with some Tektro R200 or RL340s. You can get them pretty cheap on Ebay. There are very similar Cane Creek models that are more expensive. Then I'd see if I could get used to riding on the brake hoods rather than on the tops. You have better control that way anyhow. You might find that you don't really want or need the cross levers anymore.

    One question worth asking is whether or not part of the reason you want to ride on the tops is because the bike is too big or the stem is too long.
    Last edited by tjspiel; 06-09-11 at 02:39 PM.

  16. #16
    Senior Member CACycling's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tjspiel View Post
    Then I'd see if I could get used to riding on the brake hoods rather than on the tops. You have better control that way anyhow. You might find that you don't really want or need the cross levers anymore.
    +1 My first commuter was a '77 Schwinn Le Tour w/ suicide levers. I kept the wheels trued properly and pads adjusted close to the rim so the levers actually worked OK. It wasn't long till I got used to riding in the drops and really didn't use the suicide levers. My current commuter has brifters & cross levers (it came that way) and they don't really get used either. Once I got used to riding on the hoods, I rarely ride on the tops.

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    Bicycle Repair Man !!! Sixty Fiver's Avatar
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    As long as you can remember that the suicide levers are speed attenuators and not brakes you should be fine.

  18. #18
    Senior Member Seattle Forrest's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tjspiel View Post
    Then I'd see if I could get used to riding on the brake hoods rather than on the tops. You have better control that way anyhow. You might find that you don't really want or need the cross levers anymore.
    This is exactly what I did with my first drop-bar bike. Ride the tops (with CX brakes) as I slowly got used to the hoods, and, eventually, the drops. It was a process, and the cross brakes were a bit like training wheels.
    Don't believe everything you think.

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    Quote Originally Posted by AlmostTrick View Post
    Set up and adjusted properly there is nothing wrong or dangerous with those levers. Back in the days I had them my favorite position was slightly behind the hoods, (not really hoods back then) where my ring and pinky fingers would then operate the "suicide" levers near their attachment point on the main lever when I wanted to brake. Many years and thousands of miles and I never had any problems or issues with them.
    There are a couple different sorts of suicide levers, one better than the other, but still far inferior to modern aero brake levers, with or without cross levers.

    Get some decent brake pads, too, like Kool Stop contentials (which are probably the right ones for that bike.)

  20. #20
    Yabba-Dabba-Doo! AlmostTrick's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tjspiel View Post
    That's sort of the problem. There's no independent way to adjust the suicide levers from the brake levers. Your strongest fingers are also located on the part of the lever that tends to flex a lot so you lose braking power. Honestly, there's better options now. He should just ditch 'em.
    True. I almost never rode the tops, but really liked the sides (knuckles facing out, not forward) where I was using the suicide lever near it's pivot. There is no flex at this point, just a solid feel like the main lever.



    Quote Originally Posted by dscheidt View Post
    There are a couple different sorts of suicide levers, one better than the other, but still far inferior to modern aero brake levers, with or without cross levers.
    Agreed. All's I'm saying is that unless something is actually broken, the existing levers on the OP's bike are %100 serviceable without spending any money.
    Have Bike, Will Travel

  21. #21
    Belt drive! vtjim's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AlmostTrick View Post
    Set up and adjusted properly there is nothing wrong or dangerous with those levers.
    I have to agree. I never understood the hatred. I rode with them for thousands of miles (spanning 20 years! ) on my old Peugeot and they worked fine.

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    Quote Originally Posted by vtjim View Post
    I have to agree. I never understood the hatred. I rode with them for thousands of miles (spanning 20 years! ) on my old Peugeot and they worked fine.
    They reduce the amount of foce you can squeeze the pads onto the rims with. Most of the time, that's fine, because there's plenty of margin to give away. When it's not, though, it's bad. Also modern aero brake levers are generally superior to the sort htat you can fit suicide levers to, even if suicide levers aren't fitted.

  23. #23
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    I remember one of my very first bikes as a kid had suicide levers. I rode with my hands on the tops a lot, mainly because it was difficult to use the hoods. Why? Because I didn't wear gloves and the brakes had no hoods---just bare metal. When I got another road bike that had NO suicide levers, I was nervous because my hands were "so far" away from the brakes. Adapting to riding on the hoods is easy. Today, I have to change hand position frequently to prevent numbness. I don't have cross levers. I just keep my hands on the hoods when I'm in traffic. When I'm on the open road, the need to brake is less frequent, so I can stay on the tops or drops as needed.

  24. #24
    rebmeM roineS JanMM's Avatar
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    Just how well could crummy brakes on steel rims work, anyway? Suicide levers or not.

    Speed attenuators, indeed.
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    Senior Member dynodonn's Avatar
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    I commuted many a mile to work using suicide levers as my main source of braking, without any major mishaps, and I rarely ever touched the drop bar brake levers. Currently, all my bikes are flat bar equipped since I'm still not a fan of drop bar brake levers.

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